From Lone Star Lawless: “When Cheese Is Love”

Posted by M. K. Waller

*

In November, Austin Mystery Writers, my critique group, published its second crime fiction anthology, LONE STAR LAWLESS. Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my story, “When Cheese Is Love.”

Lone Star Lawless (Wildside Press, 2017)

To set the scene: English teacher Tabitha Baynes has come to Fonda de Paz, the best Tex-Mex restaurant in Central Texas, at the invitation of Gonzalo, the owner, who moved up from Mexico last year. Tabitha has been giving him English lessons; she has also just finished a year-long medically supervised liquid-only diet, and as a result has skinnied down from XXL dresses to a Size One. She looks stunning, and she’s desperate to stay that way. She must be perfect, because Gonzalo is perfect, and tonight, they will dine together–alone. But first, she must do battle with an old enemy. We watch her cross the parking lot and approach the restaurant.

*

Taking a deep breath, Tabitha lifted her head, smiled, and walked down a pathway lined with trees twinkling with tiny blue lights, toward the evening of her dreams.

First, though, she must pass two serpents.

“Enchilada suizas” is licensed by Steve Dunham under CC BY-2.0.
The first stood in the dimly lit foyer: Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, rearing on hind legs, teeth bared, looming over the crowd waiting to be seated. Illuminated from within, he cast bright reds, blues, greens, yellows across the room. He shone beautiful and fierce—but not nearly so fierce as the serpent that guarded the dining room.

Ana Alvarado, tall and slender, wearing a simple black sheath, its severity lightened by a heavy turquoise necklace, stood at the hostess station. Her black hair was pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck. Like a Renaissance Madonna, she glowed with serenity and grace.

When Ana saw Tabitha, her Madonna smile turned into a smirk.

Buenas noches. You know, of course, that you are late.”

Skin-deep beauty and a fake accent, thought Tabitha. Everybody in town knew Ana was just plain old Alva Mae Allen, brought up right here in Bur Oak. Her mother was Hispanic and spoke Spanish fluently, but Alva Mae flunked Spanish in high school because she couldn’t conjugate irregular verbs.

Ana gestured toward a door to her right. “Because you are late, you must wait in the bar. I hope Gonzalo is not irritated with you.”

“Thank you, Ana. I’ll have a glass of wine while I wait.”

From first day of kindergarten to the night of high school graduation, Ana had made Tabitha’s life a misery. “Tubby Tabby,” Ana had called her. Twenty years later, she was still a bully.

But Tabitha had changed. She was the All New Tabitha Baynes, sporting a size one dress and a stylish coif, and her own serenity and grace reached all the way down to the bone. Nothing Ana said or did could touch her.

And tonight she would reap her reward: dinner with Gonzalo in El Nicho, the room he reserved for special, intimate parties.

Tabitha had never seen El Nicho.

“Sparkling water” is licensed by Marco Verch under CC BY-2.0

Seated on a high stool at the far end of the bar, close to the kitchen, she skipped the wine (rosé, 20 calories per ounce) and ordered a glass of sparkling water.

A waiter delivered her drink. “An appetizer, perhaps, Senorita? We have something brand new—cheesy Tex-Mex egg rolls—very tasty.

She shook her head. If there was anything she didn’t need, it was cheese. All her life, it had been her favorite food. Now she was trying to replace it with green vegetables.

The waiter winked and retreated. Tabitha looked down at her glass and drew her shawl close around her neck. She wasn’t used to men looking at her that way. It was flattering, but at the same time, unsettling. It made her feel she was nothing but a body.

Holding the shawl closed with one hand, she sipped her drink and calculated. For dinner, she would order a taco salad without the shell (420 calories). But maybe, after today’s extra-grueling workout, she could afford a real taco (571 calories). She wouldn’t even consider her favorite, the beef chimichanga (1580 calories).

The kitchen door opened and the aroma of onion, cumin, chilis engulfed her. Her stomach, which since last night had seen nothing more substantial than broth, gave a lurch. Oh, why bother, she thought. Gonzalo would serve whatever he wanted to, and it would be smothered in what he called his “signature ingredient”—cheese. And she would scarf down every bite.

She checked her watch. Gonzalo had said something about meeting with an architect to discuss plans for adding a new dining room. But what if there was another reason he wasn’t waiting for her? Maybe Ana was right, and Gonzalo was angry because she was late. Or maybe she’d gotten it all wrong, and they weren’t going to share an evening in El Nicho. In the past two months, since she stopped trying to lose weight, he’d treated her to dinner once, twice, sometimes three times a week, to thank her for teaching him to speak English. But she’d always sat by herself in the main dining room. Maybe that was the plan for tonight.

Tabitha had been giving Gonzalo English lessons at the library every afternoon for over a year. He had a good ear and learned fast. She dreaded the day their lessons would end.

Lately, however, there’d been signs he might be interested in extracurricular activities. Free meals at Fonda. Lingering looks. Hands touching when she handed him a pencil. Heads close together as they leaned over a workbook. The gleam in his eyes when she pasted a gold star on his progress chart.

She shrugged. Maybe she was here tonight because he liked gold stars.

She was tying the shawl around her neck when Gonzalo strode in. Her stomach gave another lurch. This time it wasn’t from hunger.

“Ah, mi amor.” Enfolding her hand in both of his, he gazed into her eyes. Her knees melted to the consistency of queso.

“I’m so sorry I was late—”

Mi querida, I would wait for you until the end of time.”

If Fred Schmidt, the high school industrial arts teacher who had been hounding her for weeks to go with him on Saturday nights to the Polka Barn, said he would wait till the end of time, she would laugh and ask if he’d been reading Wuthering Heights. From Gonzalo, the words sounded like a sonnet. . . .

***

A launch party for LONE STAR LAWLESS will be held at BookPeople in Austin on February 4, 2018, 5:00 p.m.  Authors will speak and sign. The book is dedicated to Gale Albright, AMW member and our dear friend, who died in November 2016.

Austin Mystery Writers: Gale Albright, Valerie Chandler, Kaye George, Laura Oles, and Kaye George (our valued emerita)

Friends who contributed stories: Alexandra Burt, Mark Pryor, Janice Hamrick, Terry Shames, Larry D. Sweazy, George Weir, Manning Wolfe, and Scott Montgomery

Kathy Waller, Laura Oles, Gale Albright, and Valerie Chandler
Kaye George

 

*****

M. K. Waller, aka Kathy, has published stories in LONE STAR LAWLESS, MURDER ON WHEELS, and DAY OF THE DARK (ed. Kaye George), and in the online magazine MYSTERICAL-E.

Here are links to her personal blog, Telling the Truth, Mainly,

to the Austin Mystery Writers blog,

and to the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter’s newsletter/blog, HOTSHOTS!, which she edits.

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Bad Men, Lawless, and BSP

 Posted by M. K. Waller

I turned on my Kindle today to find Laura Oles’ Daughters of Bad Men, had appeared in its library, overnight, as if by magic. That’s a perk of pre-ordering. Laura is one of my critique partners in Austin Mystery Writers, and Daughters of Bad Men is her first novel.

I’ve been in AMW for six or seven years–can’t remember exactly–but membership is one of the best things that’s happened since I began writing for publication.  Examining others’ work and hearing their comments on mine has made me a better writer. Members have become my friends. Together we’ve enjoyed workshops and lunches and weekend retreats.

And I’ve acquired a new virtue: I’m genuinely happy when other members get their work published.

My skin turns Shrek green, but I’m happy.

Offsetting today’s greenish tinge over Laura’s debut, I’m also happy to announce that AMW’s second crime fiction anthology, Lone Star Lawless, was released last week by Wildside Press. 

Twelve years after Karen MacInerney founded the critique group, AMW published its first anthology, Murder on Wheels. The idea, like the anthology, grew out of collaboration. Kaye George, facilitator of the group after Karen left, describes it in the Introduction:

The genesis was a ride my husband and I took a couple of years ago on the Megabus (a double-decker bus that makes express runs between major cities with very limited stops). I started thinking that the bus would make a good setting for a murder: isolated setting, finite number of suspects, possible amateur sleuth. There was one problem–where to hide the body. So I asked the group, Austin Mystery Writers, for suggestions…. Once we got started, the Austin Mystery Writers came up with murder scenarios on vehicles, then expended that to included all sorts of wheels…

Somewhere in the brainstorm of titles–Assaulted in an Automobile, Batted on a Bicycle, Conked in a Cart–Kaye said, “We should do an anthology.”

So, after inviting two accomplished writers, Reavis Wortham and Earl Staggs, to contribute, we wrote, critiqued, revised, re-critiqued, submitted to an independent editor, queried, and signed with Wildside, and Murder on Wheels: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move came out in 2015.

Kaye was an established writer with several novels and a zillion short stories to her credit, but the rest of us–Gale Albright, V. P. Chandler, Laura Oles, Scott Montgomery, and I–had never published any fiction. We were officially Pleased With Ourselves. When Wheels received the Silver Falchion Award at the 2016 Killer Nashville International Writers Conference, we tried to remain humble but couldn’t.

One anthology led to another. This time, AMW are joined by eight friends–Alexandra Burt, Mark Pryor, Larry Sweazey, Janice Hamrick, Terry Shames, George Wier, and Manning Wolfe–for Lone Star Lawless: 14 Texas Tales of Crime.

I would like to say, in a tone dripping with sophistication, “Been there, done that.” But I can’t. As with Wheels, I want to put Lawless in a baby carriage and, in a flagrant fling of Blatant Self Promotion, roll it up and down Congress Avenue and so everyone can see my magnificent creation.

Wouldn’t be prudent, though.

But if Laura wants to borrow my baby carriage to roll Daughters of Bad Men up and down Congress Avenue, I’ll be more than happy to chaperone.

*****

Note: Kaye George’s first book, Choke, is the funniest mystery novel I’ve ever read. My review on Telling the Truth, Mainly begins,

Question: If you combined Lucille Ball with Inspector Clouseau, what would you get?

Answer: Imogene Duckworthy, amateur P.I. and main character of Kaye George’s new mystery, CHOKE.

Here’s the entire review. Everything I say in it is the truth.

*****

M. K. Waller, aka Kathy, 
has published stories 
in Austin Mystery Writers’
crime fiction anthologies

MURDER ON WHEELS
& LONE STAR LAWLESS,
in DAY OF THE DARK: STORIES OF ECLIPSE,
and in Mysterical-E.

 

I’VE COME TO THE END…

 

Stephen Buehler CCWC2015 - 2by Stephen Buehler

I’m there. Just about ready to send my manuscript in. I have five small corrections and then it’s off to the publisher. I had sent DECTECTIVE RULES to this particular publisher before and she wrote back that she thought it was very funny and loved the PI’s POV, BUT, she didn’t like the main character that much. Say what?

She went on to explain that she understood that he was a new and inexperienced private investigator but she read him more as incompetent than inexperienced, doing things no PI would do. She thought it’s hard to root for a character like that. That was the first time I had received that note. Could she be right? I decided that since she felt this way, other readers, maybe not all, would agree with her.Detective Rules card

 

The publisher offered me a Revise and Resubmit.  She forwarded me detailed notes of her concerns and was most encouraging. I agreed and dove right in. As I made the changes she had suggested I found that I wasn’t happy with other scenes and chapters. I had written the draft she read 2-3 years ago and felt that I had become a better writer since then. (I have written a novella and ¾ of another novella, plus numerous short stories after Detective Rules.)

What I thought would be a quick fix became an almost total rewrite. Most of the action was the same but after reworking it, the dialogue became crisper and truer, not forced as it had felt before. The whole process took nearly a year. I sent the publisher humorous updates along the way to let her know I was still working on it. She sent back nice emails and kept saying, “No hurry. Send it when you think it’s ready. “Send button

Now it’s ready. With one click of a button it will be out of my hands. I don’t know if the publisher will like the changes, or even the rest of the story as she hadn’t read the whole book. But I do know that it’s a much better novel with her notes and inspiration and if she doesn’t want to buy it, there are more publishers out there. (But let’s hope she does.)

I’m glad I’m finally done with DETECTIVE RULES as I’m that at that point where I can’t read it anymore. I have my doubts that anyone will like it. All the negative thoughts have invaded my mind. Time to set it free.

What to do now? On to the next project…Convert my novella, The Mindreading Murders to a full novel.

Where are you on your writing project?

###

Stephen Buehler’s short fiction has been published in numerous on-line publications including, Akashic Books. Not My Day appeared in the Last Exit to Murder anthology and A Job’s a Job in Believe Me or Not An Unreliable Anthology.  His short story, Seth’s Big Move has been accepted in the LAst Resort put out by the LA Sisters in Crime in April 2017. He is expanding his novella, The Mindreading Murders about a magician into a novel. He’s just finished the latest draft of his mystery/comedy P.I. novel, Detective Rules. On top of all that he is a script consultant, magician and dog owner.  http://www.stephenbuehler.com

 

It’s a Mystery: Malice Domestic 2015

0kathy-blog

Post by Kathy Waller

*******

Malice Domestic Mystery Convention 2015. Hyatt Regency, Bethesda, Maryland.
Malice Domestic Mystery Convention 2015. Hyatt Regency, Bethesda, Maryland.

Sunday afternoon, May 4, 2015
Malice Domestic Convention Day 4
I should go to the Agatha Tea and Closing Ceremonies. It starts in ten minutes.
But after a plane trip, a ride on the Washington, D. C. Metro,
days of intense workshopping, nights of sleep deprivation,
I am just conventioned out.
Anyway, I forgot my gloves.
So while others sip tea and engage in polite conversation,
I shall sit in the bar, on this squishy couch,
and rest, and write.

Sisters in Crime Guppy Chapter Breakfast
Sisters in Crime Guppy Chapter Breakfast

Seeing so many people in love with books–specifically, with mysteries–is exciting.
The convention has been, to employ a cliche because I’m too tired to come up with something original, a whirlwind of activity. I’ll have to look at my program notes to remember what I’ve done.
Two things, however, are burned into my memory:
I fell, and I dropped my phone in front of the elevators, just as the doors opened.

Hyatt Regency bar.
Hyatt Regency bar.

The fall I count a positive event.

Friday morning I walked into a session of Malice Go Round,
in which authors move from table to table, visiting with fans.
A group stood just inside the door, talking.
I stepped to the right so I could survey the room for an empty seat.
I did not see, on the floor to my immediate right,
a small cardboard box, a large cardboard box, and a chair leaning against the wall.
Because the session was in progress, I went down as quietly as I could.
I said, I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine,
and got up the same way,  holding to the legs of the chair.

I say the fall was positive because it meant I had disgraced myself the first day
and so was spared having to spend the rest of the weekend wondering
when mortification would occur.
Chatter filled the room, and a table hid me from view.
No one snapped a picture.
I think.
And frankly, my dear, I wasn’t mortified at all.

Dropping the phone was more negative-ish,
but I managed to replace the battery and snap the back on so it was almost secure.
Snapping took as long as figuring out which way the battery should point.
And no one stepped on the pieces and slid across the tile floor before I picked them up.

But to the convention:

I attended the following sessions:

Kaye George/Janet Cantrell holds up copies of Austin Mystery Writers' Murder on Wheels and Janet Cantrell's Fat Cat Spreads Out.
Kaye George/Janet Cantrell holds up copies of Austin Mystery Writers’ Murder on Wheels and Janet Cantrell’s Fat Cat at Large.

An Introduction to the Malice Grants
New Kids on the Block: Our Agatha Best First Novel Nominees
Simply the Best: Our Agatha Best Contemporary Novel Nominees
Authors Alley, with John Billheimer and Mollie Cox Bryan
Opening Ceremonies
Welcome Reception
Fifty Shades of Oy Vey: Religious Elements in Literature
Cozy Noir? Private Eyes
You Could Just Die Laughing: Humor in Mysteries
(with Austin Mystery Writers’ friend Nancy West)
The “Paws” That Refresh: Four-Legged Detectives and Their Sidekicks
(with Austin Mystery Writers Grand Pooh-Bah Emerita Kaye George/Janet Cantrell,
author of the Fat Cat series)
An Interview with International Guest of Honor Ann Cleeves

Nancy West, author of the Aggie Mundeen mystery series.
Nancy West, author of the Aggie Mundeen mystery series.

I also attended the Agatha Awards Banquet,
featuring chocolate mousse  in teacups of molded chocolate.
The executive chef received a rousing round of applause.
Other people at my table ate both the mousse and cup,
so I did, too.

I forgot to take a picture of dessert. I also failed to photograph Agatha winners.
I won’t list the winners here.
Later, perhaps, I’ll write about them individually.
If you can’t wait to know the winners, click
http://wwwshotsmagcouk.blogspot.com/2015/05/agatha-award-results.html

(I realize I wrote about dessert before writing about the Agathas.
You may infer from that anything you want.)

Elaine Will Sparber and Kaye George. The squishy couch is to Kaye's left.
Elaine Will Sparber and Kaye George. The squishy couch is to Kaye’s left.

I am an introverted schmoozer, if you get my meaning, but I still met some people.
The first morning at breakfast, I traded cat stories with a fan.
She has four cats. One claws the carpet.
I asked whether she yells at him. She said, Yes.
I asked whether yelling works. She said, No.
I told her yelling doesn’t work for me either.

I met, and didn’t meet, some wonderful people.
Established authors encouraged new ones.
I heard not a discouraging word.

MURDER ON WHEELS. Wildside Press table, Exhibitors' Room.
MURDER ON WHEELS.
Wildside Press table, Exhibitors’ Room.

Austin Mystery Writers Kaye George and Laura Oles were here, too. We met
John Gregory Betancourt, publisher at Wildside Press, and Carla Coupe, publishing director.
Carla took a picture of us holding a copy of MURDER ON WHEELS,
Austin Mystery Writers’ recently published anthology of crime fiction.
The book looked most distinguished, stacked there beside other anthologies, one copy standing face out.
Someday, perhaps, I’ll take seeing my work in print in a public place as a normal part of life,
even find it boring.
But not any time soon.

Debra Goldstein, author of Maze in Blue
Debra Goldstein, author of Maze in Blue

I was happy to finally meet Debra Goldstein. Debra has had broad experience,
from “judge” to “mother of twins,” but says she “hates to be pigeonholed.”
She writes on her blog,

I hate to be pigeon-holed. Debra H. Goldstein, judge, author, litigator, wife, step-mom, mother of twins, civic volunteer, and transplanted Yankee writer are all words used to describe me.  “My writings are equally diverse. Maze in Blue, my debut novel, received a 2012 Independent Book Publisher (IPPY) Award and was reissued in May 2014 by Harlequin Worldwide Mysteries.  Even though Maze in Blue is a murder mystery, it is a safe bet that when it comes to my writing,  “It’s Not Always a Mystery.'” 

Debra kindly agreed to write a guest post, which will appear on my personal blog at the most auspicious time.

 That’s all I’ll say now about Malice.
Except that I’m glad I went.

Stay in touch for the rest of the story.

(If you’d like to get a jump on Malice Domestic 2016, click here.)

Malice Domestic 058

***

Kathy Waller posts at her personal blog and periodically at Austin Mystery Writers. Two of her stories appear in MURDER ON WHEELS: 11 Stories of Crime on the Move, released in April by Wildside Press: “A Nice Set of Wheels” and “Hell on Wheels.”

Scones, Shortbread, and Structure

0kathy-blog

 

 

Posted by Kathy Waller

 

When did you last attend a genuine English afternoon tea?

 

I helped host one yesterday at Sisters in Crime ~ Heart of Texas Chapter in Austin. The program focused on the life and work of English mystery novelist P. D. James, who recently marked her ninety-fourth birthday. Ms James’ latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, will be aired on PBS Masterpiece Mystery later this fall. All things considered, this seemed the proper time to celebrate the author’s contribution to literature. What better way than with a tea?

Here I must insert a disclaimer: When I call it a genuine English afternoon tea, I really mean a genuine Texas-style English afternoon tea. Dress was admittedly casual–very few hats or tea dresses–and I forgot to take the table linens. And the Earl Grey was made with teabags. But we had scones and shortbread and sandwiches, clotted cream, china teapots and cups and saucers, and boiling water. For an Austin Sisters in Crime chapter, that’s about as genuine as we can manage on our first endeavour.

P. D. James is my favorite mystery writer. I’ve read all of her novels, but my favorite of her books is Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography, a diary she kept from her seventy-seventh to her seventy-eighth birthday. The book is a joy to read. It has an intimate tone, as if the author were speaking directly to the reader, sharing stories of her post-World War I childhood; her school days; her marriage and family life during World War II;  her work in government service; her many honors; and, of course, her novels.

The parts I enjoy most, however, are Ms James’ observations about literature and about her own work. She never thought about starting with anything other than a detective novel, she says. She had always read mysteries for recreation, and she has “a streak of skepticism, even of morbidity, which attracted [her] to the exploration of character and motive under the trauma of a police investigation of a violent death.”

She also loves structure. The detective story, she notes, is “probably the most structured of popular fiction.”

Here is the point where I must put in my oar. Critics often suggest that genre fiction doesn’t qualify as literature. It’s formulaic, they say. The writer of mystery novels simply fills in the blanks, and, Voila!–a novel appears.

I’ve read that so many times that when I started work on a mystery novel, I apologized to everyone who asked what I was writing.

But after thoughtful consideration, I no longer apologize.

The sonnet is formulaic: fourteen lines in iambic pentameter, following one of two rime schemes. Do critics complain that Shakespeare’s sonnets are formulaic?

For that matter, Shakespeare’s tragedies have a set structure: five acts with the technical climax, a reversal of fortune, at the midpoint. At the middle of Act III, when Hamlet could kill his uncle Claudius but decides to wait–because Claudius is praying and, if killed now, would go straight to Heaven–do theater-goers whisper, “Well, it’s a pretty decent play, but his thing  about Hamlet not killing Claudius–that’s just part of the formula, you know.”

In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth and her immediate refusal occur at the exact center of the story. Open the book to that event–half of the pages will be on the left and half on the right. The novel is perfectly balanced. Elizabeth spends the first half of the book believing the worst of Darcy, ridiculing him, complaining about his pride, and the second half regretting the prejudice that blinded her to her own faults. That’s a definite reversal. Do we find articles pointing out that even though Pride and Prejudice is one of the finest novels in the English language, it isn’t really a big deal? Because all Miss Austen did was follow the formula?

Furthermore, the epic properly begins in medias res and comprises twelve books. Do we dismiss Paradise Lost because Milton was just copying Homer?

Enough. I’ll take out my oar. Ms James is more secure than I, and therefore presents her argument in measured tones and fewer words:

I love structure in a novel, and the detective story is probably the most structured of popular fiction. Some would say it is the most artificial, but then all fiction is artificial, a careful rearrangement by selection of the writer’s internal life in a form designed to make it accessible and attractive to a reader. The construction of a detective story may be formulaic; the writing need not be.

 The construction of a detective story may be formulaic; the writing need not be.

That’s what separates the works of Shakespeare, Austen, and other greats from the works of lesser writers.

It’s also the secret to James’ success, the reason that in her hands, the mystery genre rises to the level of literature: She takes the form, the structure, the skeleton, and covers it with art.

*****

Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write (http://kathywaller1.com).

Find her on Twitter @KathyWaller1 and on Facebook.