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Oh Dear—There Goes Another Member of Our Town!

October 13, 2021 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , ,

When one writes a series, no matter what the genre, which repeatedly uses the same community or town as its setting, readers eventually begin to fear for the lives of anyone visiting or living there. Their fear makes them question the reality of the world the writer is creating. This problem is often referred to as Cabot Cove Syndrome. The fictional syndrome, whose name was coined from the television show, Murder She Wrote, is attributed to the finding of bodies repeatedly in the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine. After running for twelve years, not to mention the books and movies the show spawned, the BBC calculated Cabot Cove’s murder rate at 1490 per million, which translated to about two percent of its residents.

Number like that, if the town existed, would definitely make one leery of spending time in Cabot Cove. Readers feel the same way when reading a series. They want a cast of repeated characters who become like family, but they also want the character roster expanded enough that the dead victim(s) and the guilty party aren’t always characters introduced for the first time in that book. Consequently, to keep readers attracted to a series, authors must employ different methods to vary their stories.

Obviously, the town can easily be avoided by having the protagonist take a trip. That may work well in a thriller or suspense novel, but not in a cozy where the small town setting itself becomes a character. Neither Murder She Wrote nor Louise Penney’s books would be the same if they weren’t repeatedly set in Cabot Cove or Three Pines.

Another method is to introduce characters in minor roles and let them evolve in subsequent books in the series. For example, in One Taste Too Many, the first book in my Sarah Blair series, I introduced Grace Winston as a culinary student interning with Sarah’s sister, Chef Emily. Grace has several scenes in One Taste where readers learn about her personality, health, and history. Because Grace is referenced again in Two Bites Too Many, she remains one of many familiar characters in the reader’s mind. Her scenes become important in Three Treats Too Many, where Grace is now the sous chef for Emily’s restaurant. In fact, the title of the book comes from an idea she raises with Emily, Sarah, and Emily’s boyfriend, Marcus, during a menu brainstorming session. Although she still is a secondary character, the reader learns about Grace’s partner and sees Grace caught in a culinary job dilemma between restaurant rivals.

Four Cuts Too Many begins a few days after Three Treats Too Many ends. Grace’s dilemma is the impetus for a meeting between Sarah and Grace. Within pages, the reader sees Grace’s role expand as now, besides being a sous chef for Emily, Grace is teaching a knife skills course at the community college. After she has a run-in with her department head and he is found dead with one of her knives protruding from his neck, Grace becomes the primary suspect.

The importance of Grace taking a major role in Four Cuts Too Many is that her character is known and liked by readers. Consequently, they want Sarah to help vindicate Grace. Although the corpse may be someone new to the community, there is enough familiarity for the story to feel like a continuous extension of a discussion between friends. This developed continuity and affection for the characters is what lets readers suspend the impact Cabot Cove Syndrome might have.

For a chance to win a print or e-book copy of Four Cuts Too Many (U.S. only), tell me, how do you feel about Cabot Cove Syndrome in the books you read?

Four Cuts Too Many

Sarah Blair, who finds kitchens more frightening than murder, gets an education in slicing and dicing when someone in her friend’s culinary school serves up a main corpse. Sarah soon finds that there’s no time to mince words when it comes to finding the real killer. 

Includes quick and easy recipes!

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Judge Debra H. Goldstein writes Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series. Her short stories and novels have been Agatha, Anthony, Derringer, and Silver Falchion finalists. Debra is on the national board of MWA and is president of SEMWA. She previously was on Sisters in Crime’s national board and was the Guppy Chapter president.

Learn more about Debra at https://www.DebraHGoldstein.com .


More Books by Debra H. Goldstein

DAY OF THE DARK

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DAY OF THE DARK

FOUR CUTS TOO MANY

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FOUR CUTS TOO MANY

ONE TASTE TOO MANY

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ONE TASTE TOO MANY

THREE TREATS TOO MANY

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THREE TREATS TOO MANY

TWO BITES TOO MANY

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TWO BITES TOO MANY

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Feel the Sizzle by Diane Sismour

September 13, 2021 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , ,

The pandemic had done something for writers far beyond our normal expectations—brought us closer together through zoom, messenger, virtual conferences, etc. (the list could fill a journal). Group members who moved beyond borders could join in regular sessions, again. Concepts exchanged and stories created with more help than preconceived prior to the shutdowns, shut-ins, and quarantines. A writer’s world no longer had to remain solitary.

The amount of meetings grew exponentially last year to escape the realities outside our own walls. We continued to stare at flat images of the people we used to associate with in person, missing the contact, but willing to sacrifice to stay connected. Writers who guarded works in fear that another could steal their premise, now shared on screen—something most wouldn’t have done pre-Covid-19.

Virtual conferences replaced the normal frenzy of booking transportation, accommodations, and higher fees. Networking parties turned to impersonal chat rooms. Pitches changed from connecting with the agent or editor who could take our novels to the next phase, to remaining quiet on the screen by sitting on hands hoping we said enough. The ease with which we introverted writers pivoted to accept them was profound.

However, without the personal contact, I missed the sizzle. The anticipation of a conference and the creative buzz around the banquets would energize me for months. I took the risk, vaccinated and precautions taken, and so happy for the outcome. This year’s Killer Nashville Writing Conference was the best I had been to in years. Many of the usual crowd stayed home, opening doors for new voices.

Whether the excitement created was from the sense of normalcy or the energy stirred by so many creative minds, the mood snapped me up and brought me back to my writing desk with noisy, chattering characters. Every penny and second spent was more than worthwhile to feel that sizzle again. Happy writing!

Diane Sismour | A Slice of Orange

Diane Sismour has written poetry and fiction for over 35 years in multiple genres. She lives with her husband in eastern Pennsylvania at the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Diane is a member of Romance Writers of America, Bethlehem Writer’s Group LLC, Horror Writers Association, and Liberty States Fiction Writers.  She enjoys interviewing other authors and leading writer’s workshops.

Her website is www.dianesismour.comand her blog is www.dianesismour.blogspot.com.

You can find her on Facebook and Twitter at: http://facebook.com/dianesismourhttp://facebook.com/networkforthearts, and  https://twitter.com/dianesismour.


A READABLE FEAST

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A READABLE FEAST
FIRST IMPRESSIONS SECOND CHANGES
FUR, FEATHERS AND SCALES: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Animal Tales

LET IT SNOW

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LET IT SNOW

ONCE AROUND THE SUN

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ONCE AROUND THE SUN

ONCE UPON A TIME

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ONCE UPON A TIME

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A Bad Moon Rising

August 13, 2021 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group, Writing tagged as , , ,
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

By Dianna Sinovic

It must have been at least one in the morning, the inkiness of the night now washed out by the full moon cresting the horizon. Sophie sat up and felt around her for her shoes. She’d been stargazing on the hill, the grassy spot beyond the embrace of the forest. With the moon up, the stars would soon fade until they were too faint to see. Sometimes she felt like that, diminished, dismissed.

Except that the full moon doesn’t rise at 1 a.m. or anywhere near that time. A full moon appears as the sun is setting, giving its full face to be illuminated. 

Jeremy was hopelessly lost, and night was falling. He was walking on what seemed like an endless plain of snow, every direction the same. Zipping up his jacket until it was at his chin, he wished he’d remembered his watch cap. Already his ears felt numb. The sun was now just an orange glow on the horizon, and in the eastern sky, the slender form of a crescent moon had  risen. He headed in that direction.

Except that a crescent moon doesn’t rise at sunset. A slender crescent is either in the eastern sky as the sun comes up. (It often shares the sky with the planet Venus, the “morning star.”) Or it’s in the western sky, following the sun down.

It’s easy to get the sun’s position correct when you write a scene. It rises in the morning and it sets in the evening. And on sweltering summer days it’s usually right overhead.

But the moon follows a different time keeper. And authors who don’t check the phases of the moon before adding them to their fiction risk yanking the reader out of the story. I have been stopped cold in otherwise compelling scenes by a moon depicted in a way that could never happen. 

It doesn’t matter where in the world you set your story, the same astronomical parameters apply. (OK, the poles are different, both for the moon’s and the sun’s appearance.) The details aren’t hard to master. There are websites (NASA is an example) that will spell out the phases of the moon for you. 

So when you’re fact-checking your draft, don’t forget to check the moon. Us astronomy geeks will thank you.

Of course, if you’ve set your story on another world, none of this applies. Instead, just be consistent with the rules of that world or universe. Double moons might be a nice touch.


Books by BWG



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Listen, my children, and you shall hear . . .

July 13, 2021 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , , , , ,

April always takes me back to my childhood in Acton, Massachusetts, right next door to Concord (pronounced more like “conquered” than like “concorde”). Growing up there imbues a child with both a sense of history and an appreciation of literature.

Concord is famously the home of many legendary authors including Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64), Henry David Thoreau (1817-62), William Ellery Channing (1818-1901), Louisa May Alcott (1832-88), and Harriet Lothrop, who wrote as Margaret Sidney, (1844-1924). Even today, well-known authors are drawn there, including Doris Kearns Goodwin, Alan Lightman, and Gregory Maguire. What a wonderful place to grow up. Writers can, as we know, make us see the world in new ways.

Equally ingrained in the culture of the area is its history. There, kids don’t get a “Spring Break” from school. Instead they get a February vacation (the week including Presidents Day) and April vacation (the week including Patriots’ Day.)

What is Patriots’ Day, you ask? It is the commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord—events with local celebrations that rival or exceed Independence Day. Over time, those battles have been the inspiration for many of the region’s poets, not least of whom was lyric poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82) who immortalized the “midnight ride of Paul Revere” in his poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere

On the 18th of April, in Seventy-five:

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year. . . 

That’s 1775, when British General Thomas Gage, who commanded the British troops occupying Boston, ordered 700 Redcoats to scour the countryside for the radical leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock, rumored to be staying thirteen miles away in Lexington, and to discover the location of stores of munitions and supplies for local militias, rumored to be hidden in Concord, seven miles farther on.

Colonial spies learned of Gage’s orders and planned to warn Adams, Hancock, and the surrounding towns. That night, two lanterns were hung in the steeple of the Old North Church, signaling the route British troops would take out of Boston.

“One if by land, and two if by sea;

And I on the opposite shore will be,

Ready to ride and spread the alarm

Through every Middlesex village and farm,

For the country-folk to be up and to arm.” . . .

And they were. In Middlesex County towns, Minutemen—so named because they were ready to rise to arms on a minute’s notice—were alerted not just by Paul Revere but by William Dawes, who took a different route out of Boston to avoid the risk of both of them being captured at once.

It was one by the village clock,

When he galloped into Lexington. . . .

Revere and Dawes met at Lexington, arriving about a half hour apart, and warned Adams and Hancock who quickly departed. The two couriers then set out for Concord. Fortunately for history, they were joined by Dr. Samuel Prescott who was out late, returning home to Concord after a courting visit with a young lady in Lexington.

Just as the sky began to lighten on the morning of April 19, an advance party of British troops, led by Major John Pitcairn, arrived in Lexington. A militia of seventy-seven armed colonists stood on the town green. They faced each other down, both sides having been ordered not to fire. Pitcairn ordered the colonists to disperse, and they began to do so. Then a shot rang out. Its source is unknown, but its effect was that the British opened fire, killing seven Minutemen. One mortally wounded patriot crawled home from the green, only to die on his doorstep.

It was two by the village clock,

When he came to the bridge in Concord town. . . .

Despite Longfellow’s heroic telling, before Revere could reach Concord, he was arrested by the British and held for questioning before being released hours later. Dawes and Prescott eluded the British, but Dawes lost his horse and walked back to Lexington. It was Prescott who, knowing the terrain, was able to get through to alert the patriots in Concord. He then traveled on to Acton while his brother, Abel, alerted other towns.

And one was safe and asleep in his bed

Who at the bridge would be first to fall,

Who that day would be lying dead,

Pierced by a British musket-ball.

Captain Isaac Davis, the captain of the Acton Minutemen, had been preparing his land for spring planting and left his plow in his field the evening before. After hearing the alarm, at least thirty of his force of forty Minutemen (including a young drummer and fifer) mustered there. Besides being a farmer, Davis was a metal worker who had fashioned bayonets for his militiamen. They were ready for close combat if need be. In the early morning hours of April 19, they marched with their arms along a nearly seven-mile trail (now followed each Patriots’ Day by local residents, scouts, and history buffs) to the home of Major John Buttrick of the Concord militia. The Buttrick farm served as the meeting place for the approximately 400 Minutemen from various towns who had responded to the call. Between the Buttrick home and the center of Concord a half mile away, flowed the narrow Concord River spanned by a wooden bridge.

By eight o’clock, the British arrived in Concord. Frustrated by not being able to find the stash of weapons and supplies, they went into houses, dragged out furniture, wooden bowls, and anything else flammable, and created a bonfire on the village green. The Minutemen saw smoke rising above the bare trees and feared the British would set the entire town afire.

The Minutemen advanced toward the bridge to cross with orders not to fire unless fired upon. Captain Davis volunteered his men for the front line because they had bayonets, saying, “I haven’t a man who is afraid to go.”

A small company of the British forces had crossed the bridge as the colonists approached. Seeing the combined militia making chase, the British retreated back across the bridge, prying up some of its planks to delay the Minutemen’s crossing. Once across the bridge, the British turned and fired on the undaunted Minutemen. Isaac Davis and another young Acton Minuteman, Abner Hosmer, fell—the first to die at the Battle of Concord.

But instead of turning and scattering as they had in Lexington, the assembled militias held their positions. Captain Buttrick shouted, “Fire, fellow soldiers, for God’s sake fire!” They fired on the British–the first time colonists had fired a shot for liberty. It was the British who turned and ran.

You know the rest. In the books you have read,

How the British Regulars fired and fled,—

How the farmers gave them ball for ball,

From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,

Chasing the red-coats down the lane,

Then crossing the fields to emerge again

Under the trees at the turn of the road,

And only pausing to fire and load.

Longfellow put it well. The British, never expecting armed resistance, reassembled and marched in formation back to Boston. The colonists pursued them, shooting from behind trees and stone walls. When the day was over, forty-nine colonists had died, but they had killed 73 soldiers of the finest army in the world.

More importantly, the Revolutionary War had begun.

Longfellow was not the only poet of his generation inspired by these events. Concord resident Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Concord Hymn,” a portion of which is inscribed on the base of a statue of a Minuteman which stands at the Old North Bridge.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

Both poets highlight the heroic acts of the colonists, heaping immortal praise on those who fought to free Americans from the yoke of the tyranny of King George III. But there is a portion of one more poem, by the lesser-known poet James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), that struck me the hardest the first time I visited the Old North Bridge as a young girl—so much so that I memorized it that day. It’s not on the tall Minuteman monument erected in 1875 that sits on the colonists’ side of the bridge, nor the obelisk erected in 1836 and placed on the other side of the river to commemorate the battle. Rather it is engraved on a slate slab attached to a stone wall on the town side of the bridge. Overlooked by most tourists, it is flanked by two small British flags. It marks the grave of two unnamed British soldiers who died at that bridge, far from their homes, on April 19, 1775.

They came three thousand miles, and died,

To keep the Past upon its throne:

Unheard, beyond the ocean tide,

Their English mother made her moan.

Standing there, a chill ran through me as I read it. I then realized that the Minutemen weren’t the only patriots in that battle. That there are two sides to every conflict, and it is good to remember that both deserve to be understood.

Writers can, after all, make us see the world in new ways.

*First published in the Spring 2020 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Literary Learnings. Reprinted with permission.

Carol L. Wright is a former book editor, domestic relations attorney, and adjunct law professor. Her debut mystery, Death in Glenville Falls, came out in September of 2017 and was named a finalist for both the 2018 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award and for the 2018 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. In addition, Carol is the author of several short stories in various literary journals and award-winning anthologies. Many of her favorites appear in A Christmas on Nantucket and other stories. She is a founding member of the Bethlehem Writers Group, a life member of Sisters in Crime and the Jane Austen Society of North America, and a member of Pennwriters, the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, and SinC Guppies. She is married to her college sweetheart, and lives in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania with their rescue dog, Mr. Darcy, and a clowder of cats. You can learn more on Carol’s website, or by following her Facebook page.


Some of Carol’s Books

(Click on the covers for more information. Hover over the covers for buy links.)

A CHRISTMAS SAMPLER

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A CHRISTMAS SAMPLER

A READABLE FEAST

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A READABLE FEAST

DAY OF THE DARK

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DAY OF THE DARK

DEATH IN GLENVILLE FALLS

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DEATH IN GLENVILLE FALLS
FUR, FEATHERS AND SCALES: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Animal Tales

LET IT SNOW

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LET IT SNOW

ONCE AROUND THE SUN

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ONCE AROUND THE SUN

ONCE UPON A TIME

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ONCE UPON A TIME

THE WRITE CONNECTION

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THE WRITE CONNECTION
UNTETHERED: SWEET, FUNNY, AND STRANGE TALES OF THE PARANORMAL

WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW

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WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW
CHRISTMAS ON NANTUCKET AND OTHER STORIES

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Eating–A Writer’s Humanizing Element in Stories Ancient and New

June 13, 2021 by in category From a Cabin in the Woods by Members of Bethlehem Writers Group tagged as , , ,

I remember a National Geographic article from a few years ago, The Joy of Food, by Victoria Pope, offered an interesting observation.

“The sharing of food has always been part of the human story . . . ‘To break bread together’, a phrase as old as the Bible, captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, and provoke laughter.”

In creating contemporary fictional scenes, epic fantasy moments, or science fiction settings, food and the act of eating, humanizes a story. Our mouth waters with tantalizing narrative of baked goods and braised stew. Romance tickles when someone gently hand-feeds a morsel of food to a love interest. Intrigue is piqued while supping at the table of a wealthy nineteenth-century Duke. Warmth ebbs in our bones when characters share spit-roasted game around a campfire in the dead of winter. We smile when a normally dysfunctional family banters happily around a holiday feast, setting aside for a moment, that which keeps them apart.

Food can be a defining backdrop with apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. Driven back to our hunter-gatherer forbearers, societies are demoralized with heart-wrenching memories of how abundant food once was. Haves and have-nots when food is scarce, polarize villages, communities, entire nations. Food as common currency is reborn. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy is an excellent example of this. S.M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire serialized life when the power went out—permanently. Christopher Nolen’s movie Interstellar, painted somberness from food-blighted, agrarian collapse.

Food weighs heavily when portraying communal tables, customs, folklore, and regional diversity. George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series is rich with culinary indulgence and subsistence living. Tolkien’s Hobbits are quiet, yet passionate diners. Elves are vegans, and dwarves—well—they’ll eat anything that isn’t green. Robert Jordan’s fourteen book Wheel of Time series has more eating scenes than grains of sand in the Wicked Witch of the West’s hourglass. Vampire feeding is a genre unto itself. Opinions vary on what Zombies find nutritious.

Science fiction poses a stronger challenge with respect to otherworldly beings, especially when writers have to define characteristics of sentient alien life. Babylon 5 was a jewel of multiple alien interactions, all with unique culinary customs. Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow did a masterful job of characterizing alien beings by what they shared with pioneering visitors from earth. Hard-core Star Trek fans can cite Klingon fare as if reading from a menu. One of my favorite movies was The Matrix where human “copper-tops” dreamed of real food, but the few humans outside the matrix subsisted on something resembling watery eggs. Has all the body needs, amino acids, proteins . . .” The very sight of it made me gag.

Eating is the ultimate show versus tell enhancer. Here’s one in an old story I wrote that attempts to capture all five senses. A pungent smokiness wafted from the meat offering that resembled a hairless, mummified rat carcass. The skin crackled between her teeth and her eyes watered from its unsalted, campfire bitterness. It was like trying to eat a botched taxidermy job, or an Amazonian shrunken beast stolen from a museum.

A story lacking a good eating scene falls short in illustrating a fundamental anthropological trait, not to mention missing out on a lot of fun writing.

What’s my favorite eating scene? Have to turn the clock back to the 1963 movie adaptation of Henry Fielding’s classic novel set in the British eighteenth-century, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, where the handsome Tom and his dining partner wordlessly consume an enormous meal while lustfully gazing at each other.

That’s what I call eating.

A native of Wisconsin and Connecticut, DT Krippene deserted aspirations of being a biologist to live the corporate dream and raise a family.  After six homes, a ten-year stint in Asia, and an imagination that never slept, his annoying muse refuses to be hobbled as a mere dream.  Dan writes dystopia, paranormal, and science fiction. His current project is about a young man struggling to understand why he was born in a time when humans are unable to procreate and knocking on extinction’s door.

You can find DT on his website and his social media links.

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Some of DT Krippene short stories appear in the following anthologies


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