Maggie Pill

The Most Entertaining Cozy Author You Never Heard Of!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Life with a Partner, and Without

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I recall reading a book a long time ago (It might have been The Accidental Tourist), where a man whose wife has left him starts doing his laundry in the shower, kicking the clothes around while he washes himself. Having known several people who've been alone too long, the scene struck me as completely realistic. When no one is there to see, lots of things don't matter nearly as much as they once did. You eat cereal for supper. You stay in your pj's all day. You designate "no tooth-brushing" or "all TV game show" days.

The Sleuth Sisters have different life scenarios. Retta had a husband she loved very much, and she was forced into single living by his death. Barb chose to be single and is therefore the most idiosyncratic of the three. Faye has Dale and always has had. After decades together, they form a cohesive unit and respond to each other's personalities almost without effort.

How do their lifestyles affect the stories? Well, Barb is certainly sure of herself, which makes her a natural leader for their firm. She's also got a chip on her shoulder about women being relegated to second place. Retta isn't shy about using femininity to get what she wants. Often lonely and bored in her empty house in the country, she tends to take chances neither Barb nor Faye ever would. And Faye doesn't mind being the backup, the organizer, the researcher. That might be partly because of her happy home life. She's got nothing to prove to herself or to anyone. She just wants to help people

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Monday, July 15, 2019

The Woman on the Farm

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One of my earliest memories of farm life is my mother washing out milkers with the hose, her back bent, her brow knitted as she focused on the task. People who knew her as the kind-but-strict schoolteacher or the music-loving choir director might have been surprised to see how hard she worked at home, but that was life on the farm in the '50s.

It was a family farm, which meant my father stayed on the land his parents owned, becoming a partner by sharing the work with his father. My grandmother was the gardener, growing vegetables to can, and the raiser of chickens for eggs and meat as well. We kids were often given tasks like gathering eggs, picking potato bugs, and pulling weeds to make Grandma's work easier.

Though raised as a "city girl," Mom could drive a tractor or kill a chicken for Sunday dinner, thought she later confessed to me that when she had to chop the head off one of the flock, she couldn't make herself eat the meat.

Mom, Grandma, and one or all of the aunts were responsible for feeding the men who came to help with the harvest, friends and neighbors, who rotated around a half-dozen farms, working as a team to get everyone's crops in the barns or sheds in as short a time as possible. I remember the excitement at mealtime on those days, when my job was to carry the food from the kitchen to a table (usually boards set on sawhorses) outside. Men of all ages sat elbow-to-elbow, eating heartily whatever we set in front of them, their faces and arms red from sunburn below and white above their caps and shirtsleeves. Their voices were loud as they discussed the crop, the machinery, and how long they had to get the work done before rain or night. When our crops were cut and stored they went on to someone else's, where other women showed off by providing their best meal, just as we did.

Those images come back to me as I write the Sleuth Sisters mysteries, and bits and pieces slide into the stories.
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Friday, July 12, 2019

The Animal Thing

Book Two

Animals play a big role in the Sleuth Sisters Mysteries, starting in Book 2. I didn't get how much pets and livestock affected me until I started writing this series. In my life I only spent one span of time without a pet, and that was my freshman year of college, when I lived in a dormitory. Other than that I had chickens, cows, horses, pigs, geese, dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and a few temporary "pets" like an baby raccoon or a fawn whose mother was killed by violators.

Like Faye in the Sleuth Sisters books, my younger sister was a horse nut. We started with ponies in the '60s and graduated to horses. Dad wintered a few cart horses that worked on Mackinac Island in the summers, and we learned to ride on their wide backs. We also learned about their tough mouths and distinct personalities. Eventually my sister was allowed to keep one for her own. Soon that horse was going to shows all over northern Michigan, and she often won top prizes despite some judges who sneered at her size. No, she wasn't really a saddle horse, but she'd do anything my sister asked of her, so she left with blue ribbons more often than not.

Drawing on those long-ago experiences has been fun, and I think it enriches the series. How about your favorite childhood animals?

Book Six

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Sisters: Where You Came In

There's a lot of study of birth order and how it affects a person's behavior. I suppose it has to have some effect, but so do a lot of other things. Here are a few.

What were things like for your parents when you were born? Were they happy? Financially secure? Ready for a baby...or another baby?

What's the setting for your childhood? Did you have wide open spaces to roam? Was it safe?

What was the family dynamic? Were there siblings? Grandparents? Extended family nearby?

Answers will vary, but here's a short version of my early life. My parents were rural and poor but happy and hard-working in 1950. They lived on a family farm, so while there wasn't a lot of money, we always had lots to eat. I was their first child as a couple, and while the family eagerly awaited a male child (Dad was the only son of an only surviving son), I never felt unwelcome for being a girl.

The farm was safe, and I went pretty much anywhere I chose from daylight till dark, either alone of with my sisters and a large group of cousins who visited often. My grandparents' house was steps away from ours, and I was in and out of their house all day. It was the childhood America thinks of when they consider the "good old days," but I'm aware that things were not like that for many people back then.

Monday, July 8, 2019

A Series on Sister Power

Book One
This is the first of a series of posts leading up to National Sisters Day, August 4th. Please respond with your own memories, whatever comes to mind as you read.

No one was more surprised than I when the Sleuth Sisters series took off. What I'd intended to be a single e-book grew, due to reader demand, to include print and then audio formats. Since that first book, the sisters have returned again and again (7 times so far) with more adventures. Just about the time I think readers are tiring of Barb, Faye, and Retta, someone writes to ask when the next book will be available. "If you do decide to end this series," one fan wrote, "please don't kill off any of the sisters!" Having lost a sister IRL two months ago, I could never do that to my fictional family.

If I had to give a single reason for the success of the Sleuth Sisters, it would be sisterhood.We don't all have sisters, but those who do often recognize themselves in the stories. Readers tell me which sister they are or point out how one of the three is exactly like one of their siblings. They have strong reactions, like the woman who wrote to tell me she "can't stand Barb." Or another who wrote to tell me that she didn't like one spot in a book because "Barb is braver than that. She'd have..." and I got a long description of what Barb would really have done if someone stuck a gun in her face.

That means the characters are real to readers, and I love that. The key to writing about sisters arguing among themselves and grousing about each other is that there has to be love behind the arguing and grousing. Sisters share experiences, genetics, and such, but we aren't alike. If we're lucky, the things we share help us understand the times when we differ.

Book Seven