The Val & Kit Mystery Series

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Next Big Thing

There’s a fun meme being spread around the blogosphere, a meme where writers can pretend they’ve made it big. Our new pal and Tweep Chloe Carstairs (@ChloeGetsAClue) tagged us in this meme, aptly called The Next Big Thing (don’t we wish!). We will take our turn by answering the questions as if the world awaits our answers (you know, like they do with J. K. Rowling or John Grisham).

What is the working title of your book?
Death in Door County

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The Door County part came from . . . well, Door County. It’s a heavenly place in Wisconsin. The Death part comes from our penchant for writing murder mysteries. (This is the third in The Val & Kit Mystery Series, but the first set outside of Chicagoland.)

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a hodgepodge of murder, mystery, humor, and a little romance. But mainly mystery. Or maybe murder.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Christine Baranski has the elegance to play Kit. Val would be harder to cast. If Meryl Streep were available, and in her early fifties, she’d be good. (Who are we kidding? She’d be fantastic at any age.)

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Best friends, with no business solving a murder, solve a murder (or two).

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

We are still working on it, but it is close to being finished. We started about six months ago.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

To Kill a Mockingbird, The Maltese Falcon, Witness for the Prosecution . . . No, we’re kidding. We don’t like to compare our books to anyone else’s, but other people have compared them to Janet Evanovich’s.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
It’s a total partnership, so we inspire each other. Besides, it’s some of the best fun we have together. Even though we live in different parts of the country, we don’t need our writing to keep us connected. It’s just a big bonus.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The two main characters are “real” people. They live in the real world. Hopefully, they are likable, caring, and a little funny, like any best friends. We all know someone just like them. Oh, and as for the plot, well, it’s carefully layered for the mystery lover. We’re hoping the reader won’t know whodunit until we tell them.

We’d love if these folks would play along, too. Simply answer the questions in your own blogs, tag us, and tag some others.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Liebster Award

We thank the talented writer Raeann Blake for nominating us for the Liebster Award. Unlike so many other awards, there are no losers—only winners! The two of us took a vote and selected Roz to accept our nomination J

The Rules
·  When you receive the award, you post 11 random facts about yourself and answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you. 
·  Pass the award on to 11 other blogs (while making sure you notify the bloggers that you nominated them!). 
·  You write up 11 NEW questions directed towards YOUR nominees. 
·  You are not allowed to nominate the blogger who nominated your blog!
·  You paste the award picture into your blog. (You can google the image; there are plenty of them!)
11 Random Facts about Roz
  1. When a child calls me Auntie Roz, it stops my heart for a second. I'm putty in their hands after that and will give them anything.
  2. I find the overture from The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart absolutely thrilling, no matter how many times I hear it.
  3. My favorite Christmas movie is The Bishop's Wife, starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young.
  4. I wish I had learned to play the violin when I was young. It's the perfect instrument. Classical or bluegrass.
  5. When I was a teenager in London in the ’60s, it was important to swear allegiance to either The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. I chose the Stones, and I think Mick Jagger's still got it.
  6. I'm the elder of two sisters, but my baby sister has always been more mature than I am.
  7. I have Post-it notes all over my desk and fridge, but sometimes I can't read my own writing.
  8. I love lists and make them all the time, although I often forget to take my list with me when I go shopping.
  9. I love being around people who make me laugh. It's essential in a friendship.
  10. I like wearing hats.
  11. I hate my curly hair (hence my love of hats).

Questions from Raeann
  1. If money was not an issue and you could have any job in the world, what would it be? There isn't a job in the world that I'm excited about. I'd be done with working. (I don’t consider writing a job or work.) I'd like to stay home every day and just play with my friends (which includes writing with Patty).
  2. Dogs or cats? Dogs, definitely. Cats don't really need an owner, but dogs are grateful for everything you do for them.
  3. Log cabin in the mountains or expansive luxury house on an ocean shore? Luxury house on an ocean shore.
  4. Have you ever traveled to any destination that required the use of a passport? Yes, too many to count. Most of Europe and the Caribbean, but not Asia or Africa. Any traveling I have left would be to see the rest of our amazing United States.
  5. What is your dream vacation destination? Visiting my home country of England, surrounded by my family. Doing nothing special, just hanging around watching nieces and nephews grow.
  6. What is your favorite type of music? I love all kinds of music: country, rock, pop, jazz and a little light opera.
  7. What is your favorite spot and/or activity for relaxing? In my own bed, reading a good book or watching a good murder mystery on TV.
  8. In school, were you a teacher’s pet, the class clown, or __________? A little bit of the class clown. But definitely the English teacher's pet (not so much the math or gym teacher’s). My English teacher taught me the love of words when put together in the right order. She once told me you should never start a sentence with the word And, but in my case she would make an exception.
  9. Do you prefer clear blue skies or rolling thunderstorms? I live in a sunny, hot climate, so I really enjoy grey, gloomy days. Thunderstorms are okay, too, as long as they don't herald the arrival of a hurricane.
  10. What is your favorite childhood Christmas memory? When I was very young, my baby sister was diagnosed with polio. As such, my family was quarantined for a week during Christmas and we missed the party our neighborhood had organized. One dear neighbor (I don't remember his name) dressed as Santa Claus and came to our house to bring us presents. I can still remember the thrill of opening the door on Christmas Eve and seeing the man himself who had taken time from his busy schedule to stop by and visit my sister and me. Don't tell me there is no Santa Claus!
  11. What is the next book you plan to read? I have so many books waiting to be read, but it will probably be a mystery by John Sanford or the final in the trilogy by Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. It's old, I know, but I loved the first two and my boyfriend insists this is the best one.
Questions for Our Nominees
  1. How old were you when you first fell in love?
  2. Who is the most influential person in your life today?
  3. What do you regret the most in your life?
  4. What's the best thing about living where you live?
  5. What are you most proud of in your life?
  6. What is the best gift you ever received?
  7. When you spend money on yourself, what do you indulge in the most?
  8. Would you rather read a classic novel or see the movie?
  9. Has a major occurrence recently changed your life?
  10. If yes, was it good or bad? If no, what major occurrence would you like to experience?
  11. Do you donate to any charity, and if so, which one(s)?
Our Nominees
Remember, this is not a punishment; it’s an AWARD J So NO PRESSURE to participate for those already trying to squeeze twenty-six hours of work into twenty-four! We’d love to learn more about the nominees we’ve chosen. But whether the following bloggers accept it or not, they are very deserving of the Liebster Award and also very deserving of readers, so check out their blogs, y’all!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Booker Award

We received this award from a delightful new Twitter friend, Amy Whelan, aka @Youthful_Yogini at, who in turn received it from her husband, author Jeff Whelan (@SpaceOrville), a huge supporter of all indie authors, including us. This award is passed among authors and bloggers to showcase their five all-time favorite books.

We are honored to share our Top 5 books (an impossible task, really, so we’re going to call our list Five OF Our Favorite Books). And we are honored and humbled to have the opportunity to pass this award along to five others whose lists we can’t wait to read!

So without further ado, the envelope, please.


1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Patty has read this classic; and Roz has read it twice, a different translation each time. So of course we assume it’s on everyone’s list. J Rich in Russian history, it tells one beautiful love story and one tragic love story. And it’s free on Amazon for the Kindle or Kindle app.


2. Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York by Gail Parent. This book is old, but Roz can still quote some of it. It’s very funny and painfully sad and still relevant for the single woman today. Definitely a book we can reread and enjoy as much as the first time we read it in the ’70s.


3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Another classic (also free on Amazon), this is a wonderful, character-driven book. It’s very funny in parts and has superb dialogue. It makes us grateful for the English language.


4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. This is a classic whodunit with the ultimate twist at the end.

5. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Set in Spain in 1945, this is a multi-layered, mysterious page-turner with adrum roll, pleaseBOOK at the center of its plot. 


6-10. (Well, there are two of us; and Patty’s favorite author, Herman Wouk, not only wrote the following books listed, he also, at the age of 97, has a book coming out this month, The Lawgiver, which of course is at the top of our TO-read books!) The Winds of War, War and Remembrance, Marjorie Morningstar, The Caine Mutiny, Youngblood Hawke.


It’s been too long since we’ve read a Herman Wouk novel, but, as with James Michener (who has more than one book that is also among our favorites), to read Wouk is to become enlightened, educated, and entertained all at once. And what more could we want from the books we read?

It is with great pleasure and anticipation that we now pass The Booker Award along to five others. We do this to honor them as well as to pick the reader portion of their brains.

@WodkeHawkinson (another writing duo)
@_DakotaDouglas (Roz’s fellow Brit)
@AlleWells (Roz’s fellow Southerner)
@RaeannBlake (Roz’s fellow Texan)
@WordGroupie (Patty’s fellow Hoosier—once a Hoosier, always a Hoosier J)


BUT, no pressure to participate for those already trying to squeeze twenty-six hours of work into twenty-four!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Skype Rocks, Even for the Low-Tech (and Dogs)

Writing novels with a partner has one tiny potential problem when one lives in Wisconsin and the other in Texas. These locations could seem as far away as the North Pole to the South. But our polar opposites vanished when we enjoyed our first writing session via Skype a couple of weeks after our biannual in-person visit in Wisconsin (where, as you may have read in our last blog post, we played more than we wrote). Now Roz is here to tell you: Skype rocks.

Okay, this is not news.  We could (make that SHOULD) have been doing this for years already, when gasoline was still under three bucks a gallon. But I have to be honest and admit that Patty, the brilliant techie of our duo, had to drag me kicking and denying into the Skype world. After the great success, I was embarrassed it had taken me so long to agree to it.

Nevertheless, I was now ready. My webcam securely hooked to the edge of my monitor, staring down at me like a third eye, I downloaded the Skype software and was ready to begin. The download was a breeze. First of all, it’s free, and so what if you have to go through a lot of gyrations to reject offers from several companies that promise to sweep your computer of bugs every one and a half seconds, plus clean up after itself? It’s free! Too bad it couldn’t promise to do the same for my kitchen.

After a couple of landline phone calls to each other to assure we were ready to go, Patty’s face miraculously filled my screen, almost life-size. It took several minutes of congratulating each other that everything appeared to be working correctly, and then we began to work in earnest.

We tightened our plot; we read aloud to each other, correcting the inevitable problems with dialogue and descriptions; and we did a lot of laughing, as we always do when we are “working.”

During the call, I happened to be dog-sitting my friend’s 15-year-old cocker spaniel, Bailey. Patty, who was at her daughter’s home in Green Bay at the time, was babysitting real children and also had custody of Hank, their gorgeous yellow Labrador.  Inevitably, Bailey and Hank wandered into view of the webcams. Hank barked loudly, but Bailey ignored him. To be fair, I should add that Bailey is almost totally deaf, and Hank’s vision wouldn’t qualify him as a seeing-eye dog,so I doubt they were able to appreciate the wonder of Skype as much as Patty and I did.

All in all, I was thrilled with the whole process. Definitely something we will do on a regular basis. Only problem is how to end the session. I just didn’t want to say goodbye.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

We Confess

So, we weren’t lying when we tweeted that our recent in-person writing session left us exhausted but exhilarated. We do have a bit of a confession to make about that, however: the exhaustion and exhilaration came more from PURE PLAY than from productivity. Yeah, we often derive as much fun from our writing as our guys do from their fishing or shooting. But on this visit together, we did something we haven’t done for years, because our time together is so limited and precious and, we thought, has to be reserved for WRITING.

Maybe it was subconscious manipulation on our part, a yearning to entertain ourselves and each other as we did in the years before we started writing together. Whatever, we found our work-in-progress set in Door County, Wisconsin, where Patty lives and where Roz just came for our writing session/visit. So in the name of research, we did what people DO when they come to Door County! Things like: climbing to the top of the Cana Island Lighthouse; dining at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, where goats graze atop the roof; tasting wine at the Door Peninsula Winery; and attending the play Lombardi at the Peninsula Players Theatre, which sits among the trees on the shoreline of the Bay.

And hey! We found out some valuable info for our new book. We learned, for example, that the traditional dresses worn by the waitresses at Al Johnson’s do not come clear to the floor. Important stuff J But stuff, nevertheless, that kept us from the plotting that we’d planned to do. In other words, we aren’t much further along in our work-in-progress now that Roz has returned to Texas than we were when she arrived in Wisconsin.

Enter Skype, which might just be the best thing for our writing since we replaced our typewriters with computers and traded snail-mail for e-mail. I mean, what’s the difference whether we’re sitting at opposite ends of a couch, manuscripts and pens in hand as we take turns reading aloud and discuss changes needed and just where we should go from here, or whether we’re sitting on our respective desk chairs in front of our respective Skype cameras in Texas and Wisconsin?

We’re about to find out! Update to follow.

But first, some pictures from the week that was:

Roz (center) and Patty (right) take a break from plotting their latest, um, cliff-hanger to tour The Door with their editor Sarah.

Patty’s husband, John, and Roz’s partner, Mike, join “the girls” at Al Johnson’s.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Inquiring Minds Want to Know: How Do We Write TOGETHER?

The most important thing you need to know is how much fun it is. Beyond that, we almost hesitate to give our secrets away. But what the heck?!

Writing really does work so much better with two heads. This we know because we have each written at least one book alone. And it was tough. Now we actually feel sorry for the solitary writer, plunking away on his/her computer, locked away in a study or basement. Or, in the case of the successful (meaning well-paid) author, an office outside the home. (Wait! Forget that last part; we definitely don’t feel sorry for anyone who is well paid for writing books!)

How do we do it? Timing is the biggie. We both lead busy lives, and making time to write can be difficult. But knowing that someone awaits the next chapter is rather like running in a relay. You just gotta get that baton to the next runner as quickly as you can, and it’s got to be a good hand-off. Or at least a presentable one. Only difference is that the baton will come back to you before you can catch your breath and down a gallon of Gatorade. Then the running starts all over again.

It helps that we have few rules. After the briefest of discussions where we bounce around a few ideas (maybe about something as simple as the location or something as important as the victim), one of us writes the first chapter, then e-mails it to the other. (Patty lives in Wisconsin; Roz lives in Texas.)  The recipient adds, deletes and changes as she sees fit (a process we call “sparkling”) and then writes the next hunk and e-mails it back. And the process is repeated, interspersed with phone calls, e-mails and texts as needed.

Admittedly, with our method, consistency can prove as challenging as it is vital. Patty might visualize the kitchen where the murder took place because she wrote that particular chapter. But Roz might see it differently. Was the kitchen table described as round, or was that only imagined? When Roz introduces a main character who is clearly developed (in her mind) with curly red hair and chewed-off nails and then meets up with her in the next chapter sporting hair as straight as a ruler and a French manicure, she realizes she probably didn’t really describe her but rather just thought she did. The cure? We keep a running fact sheet as well as a chapter-by-chapter synopsis and also a time line and/or calendar. Add to those, upon completion of the book, many, many readings by many, many readers.

Then there is the matter of the plot, or in our case, the lack of a (predetermined) plot. Or conversely, too much plot. An outline just doesn’t work for us. It’s way too confining. If we can surprise each other, even if we are heading off in different directions, there is the tiniest hope the eventual reader will be surprised too. Usually we send a chapter to our partner with no idea what will follow the page-turner that ended it. Painting each other into a corner is what we do best, and the reward is seeing how we get out.

Of course, it all has to come together in the end. And that’s the really fun part. We meet twice a year and read our manuscript aloud, each taking a page at a time. By this stage in the process, our words are so closely meshed together it’s difficult even for us to tell who wrote what. (But Patty claims Roz wrote the swear words and such.)

Since we are now on our third book in The Val & Kit Mystery Series, our heroines are real people to us, best friends with a shared love of Starbucks yet distinctly different personalities. Kinda like us, in fact. The brave Kit breaks rules when they get in her way, in spite of the tender-hearted Val’s protests. Best of all, there are now four of us, not two, on this thrilling journey.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Nora Ephron: Roz Remembers

I never met Ms. Ephron, who passed away June 26, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t like the term “passed away.”  Perhaps it’s better to just say she is no longer with us, except that’s not true either. Her wise-cracking wit lives on. In the mid-eighties, on one rainy Sunday afternoon, I watched a little movie called Heartburn. I was on the wronged side of a divorce, feeling cheated, miserable, useless. When Meryl Streep’s character, in similar circumstances to poor me, looked to her father for some solace, he said, “If you want monogamy, marry a swan.”  It was cruel, and wonderful, and heartbreaking, and somehow endearing. I wasn’t the only woman in the world forced to start life over; now there was one other. Nora Ephron. She got it.

May she rest in peace, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t like that term, either.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Beauty Tips from Roz

Readers of The Val & Kit Mystery Series are privy to a few beauty secrets of our favorite women sleuths. But here Roz shares a few of her own. She stresses that these are HER beauty tips—certainly not Kit's, or even yours— and they might not apply to anyone but her. Then again, they might, so here goes:

I wear lipstick every day, but never without a pencil liner—no one needs to see red lipstick disappearing into the tiny lines around your mouth. And you have to use it sparingly or you'll be Jack Nicholson as the Joker.

Gray hair—get rid of it. The ONLY person it looks good on is George Clooney.

I avoid showing my teeth when I smile for photographs. As I've aged, my teeth have gone on a journey of their own. Apparently they can't all agree on the same destination, so many of them are traveling to different locations. If I weren't so afraid of the dentist, I would have had them straightened years ago—but nah!!!!

I avoid like the devil cleavage, bare arms, and uncovered chunky knees. Not everyone my age has to do this, but I can think of millions who should. For example, I recently saw a picture of Sophia Loren's cleavage. And I do mean her cleavage. That was all I could see. Cover those things up already, Sophia. No one wants to look at ninety-year-old boobs. Well, some probably do, but I don't like those people.

Scarves are tricky. You don't want to be confused for a Muslim if you aren’t one, or the more politically correct Sister Wife. Jackie O made scarves glamorous, but they don't do any favors for Queen Elizabeth. I say, unless you are in disguise (as Val and Kit sometimes are), wear them only around your neck and make sure they are of good designer quality. The two CCs of Chanel are a nice touch.

Unfortunately, I don't wear my four-inch heels anymore, the ones I ran, literally, around in when I was young. These days I'd have more balance on roller skates dipped in bacon grease. But I miss them so much and can't bear to give them away. So I have a space in my closet for all my sexy high heels, and I visit them once a month. Now I buy only flat or very low-heeled shoes. My rule is to avoid SAS shoes or indeed anything made by Scandinavian craftsmen. Sure, they want us to be comfortable, and safe, but all they are really good for is hiking in a fjord.

I have dry skin, so moisturizer at night is vital. This could be a tub of plain old Vaseline that's been in my bathroom closet since the Carter administration (no matter how much I use, I still always end up with a semi-full jar, making me think it regenerates itself). When I'm feeling rich, or have just watched Diane Keaton on TV advertising her jar of "golden cream that is just for us wink wink," I splurge. I won't listen to the theory that Diane's face is air-brushed. I trust her, but I know she can take a joke. She was Woody Allen's girlfriend for a few decades, for goodness’ sakes.

And that brings me to the most important beauty tip of all: Make sure you are prettier than the man in your life. Sorry, George. You are waaaaay too pretty for me to consider seriously.

And lastly, the BEST beauty tip of all: Have at least one person in your life who makes you laugh out loud. I am lucky. I have several, and a good laugh is better than a facial any day.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Our Characters: Fact or Fiction

We are constantly asked which one of you is Kit and which is Val?

Well (as Val would say), we always answer neither. Val and Kit are each an amalgam of good friends (Sarah and Lee to name just two); the women we would like to be; and okay, maybe just a touch of who we are.

We blog, in part, to let you know all four of us better, Val & Kit AND Roz and Patty! Here, a comment from Val about the mystery-solving twosome (and just a glimpse into the third book in The Val & Kit Mystery Series):

Kit is always an adventure, even if it’s only a five-hour drive to the next state. I see the bright sunshine and warm temperature as a plus. Kit sees the possibility of skin cancer. For the drive up to Door County from our Chicago suburb, I wear an old Cubs baseball cap I found in the back of my closet behind the sack of clothes I’ve been meaning to give to Goodwill for the past ten years. Kit wears a stunning wide-brimmed hat she bought at Saks for fifty bucks. She looks like a Vogue cover. I look like someone wearing an old baseball cap.

During the drive, my twentysomething daughter Emily listens to the Black Eyed Peas on her iPod. Kit reads The New York Times on her Kindle. And I’m tuned in to the Golden Oldies station, singing along with The Temptations.

A thought occurs to me. I should check out those Goodwill clothes . . .  they’ve probably come back in style.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

BFFs: How We Got Our Start
You’ve heard of friends Rachel and Monica? Laverne and Shirley? Maybe even Lucy and Ethel? Soon, with a little luck and the help of this blog, you might come to know friends Val & Kit. But first, meet friends Roz and Patty.

Once upon a time, two (unbeknownst to each other) wannabe authors lived in Minnesota. Yep, their names were Roz and Patty. They met through mutual friend Lee, whom they both adored, in part because she was a real character, in the best sense of the word.

Not long after they met, Patty moved to South Dakota. Roz and Patty developed their friendship via letters (remember those things?) and occasional, all-too-expensive, long-distance phone calls (anyone in this day of unlimited long-distance remember THOSE?).

When Roz’s letters arrived, Patty read them aloud to her husband, and the couple chuckled frequently and even guffawed from time to time. When Roz read Patty’s letters to her husband, he said, “Point, point” – something Patty rarely got to. Not quickly, anyway.

Patty told Roz she should be a writer because of her keen Brit wit (Roz is a born-and-bred Londoner who now lives in Texas; but back to Minnesota and South Dakota for now). Roz told Patty that she had actually written short stories when she was a teen. Then Patty confessed that she, too, had written (unpublished) short stories and essays for Redbook Magazine and the like. So they each subscribed to Writer’s Digest and The Writer Magazine and began their writing careers in earnest. Separately.

They wrote and shared with each other their yet-to-be (soon-to-be?) published novels (watch for Trousseau and Tangled Webs – in the distant future, if not sooner). Then both came to a creeping if not screeching halt.

So one day Roz called Patty and said, “How about we start a writing exercise? I’ll go first and send you a segment, you can add a segment and send it back, and so forth. At least we’ll be writing.”

And write the friends did. After about 100 pages, one of the friends turned it into a murder mystery. After a few more pages, one of them said, “This is really good!” And thus the friends eventually finished their first co-authored novel. It wasn’t the first of the Val & Kit Mystery Series, but rather a stand-alone murder mystery. Aptly titled Segments, it also remains yet-to-be (soon-to-be?) published. The friends won’t define soon J but watch for it in the near or distant future, too.

For now, they’re busy trying to get the 2nd in the Val & Kit Mystery Series to their readers, who are clamoring for it. Seriously. And they’re busy pinching themselves.